A cute, formulaic, one-joke movie…but at least it’s not sluggish!
Low expectations commonly yield better-than-expected results. In the case of Turbo, a charming result emerges from an incredibly lackluster premise. ‘A snail that goes fast!‘…Okay, not really piquing my interest. ‘And, he races in the Indy 500!’ Snails and racing? No thank you, I’d rather read a book. Turbo doesn’t break any new ground, nor is it distinctly memorable. Its straightforward story is respectable, its characters are pleasant, and the colorful visuals are good. Nearly every joke is about the ‘snails vs. speed’ theme at play, but luckily the movie never slows to a snail-like crawl. But despite the film’s drawbacks, audiences will still be rewarded by Turbo, if only because it’s just not as bad as it seems.
Theo, who calls himself Turbo (Ryan Reynolds), is a snail who dreams of being fast. His brother, Chet (Paul Giamatti), is a risk-averse snail who won’t support or try to understand Turbo’s plight. Along with the rest of the snail colony, they “harvest” a tomato garden and live dull, repetitious, and slow snail lives. At night, Turbo sneaks into the human’s house and watches racing on television and is completely enamored with Guy Gagné (Bill Hader), a champion race car driver. It’s all very Antz-like (with less Woody Allen neurosis) but holds on tight to a kid friendly tone — one that is just charming enough for adults to sit through.
It’s when the “magical” moment happens (like in Rookie of the Year, Freaky Friday, What Women Want, or The Hot Chick, etc.) in which Turbo’s shell (or body?…not sure) gets infused with nitrous oxide, or NOS, that we get to the main storyline, which involves a pair of Mexican brothers, Angelo and Tito. They run a small taco stand and taco truck, called Dos Bros Tacos. Tito is the dreamer who wishes for success, even through non-traditional means, including using his snail races, featuring a colorful cast of racing snail characters with cute nicknames (Burn, Skidmark, White Shadow…) and A-list talent voicing them (Samuel L. Jackson, Snoop Dogg, Michelle Rodriguez, and Maya Rudolph, to name a few). Angelo, like Chet the snail, just wants to push forward through life as things are – working hard and being content with the hand he’s been dealt. Tito and Turbo, on the other hand, believe they can achieve greatness by other means (the film tries to play down the fact that money and fame play crucial roles). Since Turbo is fast now and wishes to race in the Indy 500, and since Tito is a human that can help, well then what the heck! … that’s the plan!
The voice acting is good. The animated characters largely reflect the characteristics of the known actors voicing them. You’d normally associate ‘cool’ and ‘calm’ with Ryan Reynolds, ‘frantic’ and ‘sarcastic’ with Paul Giamatti, and ‘bad ass’ with Samuel L. Jackson, and so on. Richard Jenkins and Ken Jeong lend their voices to two store owners in the strip mall where Dos Bros Tacos is located. Jeong’s voice work is borderline racist, since it’s for a crazy Asian woman nail salon owner. As previously mentioned, Bill Hader as Guy Gagné was an enjoyable surprise.
Aside from the voice acting, there isn’t much else worthwhile to critique in depth. Kids will enjoy Turbo the most because of its fast-paced simplicity. Adults will leave the theater, like I did, thinking – well that actually wasn’t THAT bad. Turbo even has one or two moments that cleverly poke fun at our fascination with re-mixing, auto-tuning, and YouTube celebrity, which younger kids may not fully understand…yet. The film doesn’t offer much more. Will any of us observe snails in a new light, similar to how we surreptitiously monitored our toys after the release of Toy Story? Not likely.